Buying Satellite





Just because you live in a flat doesn't mean you can't enjoy satellite television, we look at the practicalities of installing a communal STV system.



At a rough guess between a quarter and a third of the satellite dishes in this country are completely unnecessary. There's a quite staggering amount of duplication; we've all seen blocks of flats, covered with dozens of ugly-looking dishes, one antenna can easily feed hundreds of homes. On a smaller scale, pairs of dishes can often be seen side by side on terraced or semi-detached houses. One dish can supply both homes with satellite signals, less intrusively and sometimes more cheaply than two. All it takes is a little co-operation and forethought; whether you live in a high-rise block of flats or a house, if you want satellite television it is sensible to discuss it with your neighbours first.


But where do you begin, once you and your neighbours have decided to take the plunge? You could always jump in at the deep end but there's a risk that you will quickly get bogged down with bureaucracy, officialdom and red tape. It's wiser to seek expert advice first, and go to a reputable satellite installation company, preferably one who is a member of the Confederation of Aerial Industries (CAI).


If you're interested in sharing a dish with your next-door neighbour they will certainly be able to explain what's involved, and point you in the right direction of a suitable dish set-up. If you live in a block of flats you may already have been canvassed by installation firms, by all means hear what they have got to say. They will be familiar with the various licensing requirements, and with their local knowledge and experience, be able to suggest the best way to proceed, as well as giving you some idea of the amount of work and costs involved.



At this early stage it's also a good idea to acquaint yourselves with the most recent legislation concerning STV installation; there's a helpful booklet that you should read first, it's published by the Department of the Environment and the Welsh Office. It's called 'A Householder's Planning Guide For the Installation of Satellite Television Dishes', and is available from: DOE, PO Box 135, Bradford, West Yorkshire, BD9 4HU; quote reference number 91 PLAN 0084.


If you live in a block of flats or an apartment the next step will usually be to approach the landlord, managing agent or local authority, to see whether or not it is feasible or indeed permissible to install a communal or SMATV (satellite master antenna television), system. If you get the green light, and you live in a cable franchise area, first refusal to supply satellite TV programs should be offered to the local cable TV company, otherwise it's back to the installation company, to set the wheels in motion.



Most flats and apartments will already have some sort of communal aerial system, for the BBC and ITV channels, this can sometimes be used to carry the extra satellite signals, though unless it's fairly new it's more likely the installation will have to be 'over-wired' with extra cables. In the early days of satellite television most SMATV installations used a 'channelised' system, where the various channels were decoded centrally, by a bank of receivers, each tuned to a different channel. Nowadays, with the increase in the number of satellite channels, encrypted broadcasts and the promise of more to come, that has proved to be both inefficient  and costly to administer. The preferred alternative is the 'IF system', where the feed to the individual flat carries the same type of signals as those coming from a single dish. This leaves the occupier free to choose their own receiver, decide which channels they wish to receive, and pay their own subscription charges directly to the program providers.


If everything goes smoothly, and the various parties are reasonably well-organised a typical  SMATV installation need take no more than a month or two, from start to finish. In the majority of cases disruption can be kept to a minimum and will normally only involve a small amount of work, replacing or modifying the cable outlets in each flat.



'My wife Linda and I were beginning to feel like social outcasts. You know how it is, down the pub the talk is no longer what's happening in Coronation Street or East Enders, but last night's episode of Star Trek, the big fight, or more recently, the stuff you can buy on the shopping channel. Since we live in a small block of flats we've never even thought of buying a satellite dish, though one or two of our neighbours put them up, only to be told to take them down again by the landlord'.


'A couple of months ago, at a meeting of the residents association, someone asked if there was any way we could have satellite TV installed in our block. At the time no-one knew much about it, except that we weren't allowed to have dishes, but they decided to investigate and set up a committee of five residents. A couple of weeks later we all got letters from the management company explaining that if enough people voted for it, it would be possible to have satellite TV in our block, the letter also set out the likely costs of installation and receivers, as well as a leaflet explaining subscription charges'.


'It all seemed quite reasonable and we immediately agreed. We later found out that fifteen of the twenty families in our block had said yes, and that was more than enough to get the go-ahead. Work began a month later, it took around a week to complete, and the engineer was in and out of our flat in just over an hour and a half, putting in a new wall box; he even cleared up after him'.


'We were given the option of buying our receiver from the installation company, at a good discount, or getting our own. I spent some time looking through the various magazines and we eventually decided on the latter option, mainly  because I wanted one that would work with our Nokia TV, using the same remote control; we've already got enough little black boxes kicking around the house. We eventually brought the receiver, a Nokia 1700, by mail-order, and we seem to have got quite a good deal. It came with a viewing card and instructions on how to get it up and running, it only took around an hour. We've been very pleased with the picture quality, which is sometimes better than the regular BBC or ITV programmes which suffers from interference every now and again. We decided to subscribe to the Sky Movies and Multi-Channel package and so far we've been really happy with it, so much so that we're thinking about getting the full SKY package, with the extra movie and sports channels'.



* Start by canvassing support from your neighbours

* Organise yourselves, get the residents association involved  

* Ask local installation firms for a rough estimate of the likely costs

* Seek advice on local planning restrictions

* Put your proposal in writing, include as much information as you can

* Submit your proposal to the managing agent, landlord or local authority

* Make sure everyone is kept up to date with what is going on -- a regular newsletter might be a good idea



R.Maybury 1993 0811




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